‘Vital’ Lochaber ferry should be free say campaigners

The Corran Ferry, preparing to dock at Nether Lochaber. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Corran Ferry, preparing to dock at Nether Lochaber. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A FRAGILE Highland community has launched a campaign to abolish fares on the Corran Ferry in Lochaber, after a third price hike in just 12 months.

The Highland Council-owned ferry operates on Loch Linnhe in west Lochaber and is the second busiest sailing in Scotland, carrying 290,000 vehicles and half a million passengers a year.

But campaigners have hit out at the latest price rise, which brings the average fare increase in the last year to around 25%.

The ferry is used by communities in Ardgour, Morvern and Ardnamurchan. It is also used by people and businesses on Mull, who first travel to the mainland on the Fishnish-Lochaline ferry.

The Corran Ferry and Fishnish-Lochaline services also offer tourists an alternative to the Oban to Mull ferry.

‘Totally fed up’

Campaigners from six separate community councils have formed the protest group FC Corran (Free Crossing for Corran), claiming that the route should be treated in the same way as a land bridge. The campaign has attracted widespread support, with over 800 ‘likes’ on the FC Corran Facebook page in just 24 hours.

FC Corran members gathered today for a mock ribbon-cutting ceremony for a fictional underwater road which they say would be free of charge if on land.

Tony Boyd, chairman of Ardgour Community Council, said: “Introducing the new charges on April Fool’s Day is really a joke.

“We are totally fed up with the constant increase in prices.

“The route should be treated like bridges linking trunk roads across the country – like the Erskine, Forth Road and Skye bridges – and should be free of charge.”

The latest increase means the short crossing between Nether Lochaber and Ardgour will now cost £7.90 for a single car, up from the previous £7.60. Last year it was £7.

Money raised from the fares is used to pay for the upkeep of two ferries, the MV Corran and reserve vessel Maid of Glencoul, and the piers.

Major repairs had to be made to the slipway at Nether Lochaber three years ago after the Corran caused damage to concrete and piling.

The local authority claim they have been forced to increase fares to bridge the £173,000 gap between fare income and the £1.3 million annual running costs of the service.

Campaigners say the continuous fare rises are leading to significant rural deprivation, impacting on key local businesses of tourism, fish-farming and forestry.

‘Impact on communities’

FC Corran hope to take inspiration from the successful campaign to abolish tolls on the Skye Bridge, and the group have been given the support of Robbie the Pict, a central figure of that crusade.

He said the new charges were a “social injustice” and claimed the local communities were being kept “financial prisoners”.

Singer Mary Anne Kennedy, an FC Corran spokeswoman, said: “We aim to campaign with the same wit and good humour that SKAT (Skye and Kyle Against Tolls) did with the Skye bridge, while looking to a serious endgame of a real solution to a problem which aggravates rural deprivation, jeopardises businesses and undermines fragile communities on the peninsulas the ferry serves.”

Mr Boyd added: “Everyone has to realise that every increase in ferry fares, whether you use the ferry regularly or not, impacts on the cost of living for the communities on this side of the water.”

Lochaber MP Charles Kennedy has also added his voice to the new group, saying: “There is no doubt that this is a campaign driven by a desire for social justice.”

Council response

A council spokesman said: “The fares at Corran Ferry have been the subject of public consultation in the Ardnamurchan over the past year.

“The issue with the ferry trading account is that income has not kept pace with inflation in recent years and the gap between income and expenditure has been widening due to high fuel and refit costs.

“This is a ferry which has the second highest carryings of any ferry in Scotland and where the ferry has broken even historically.

“The council is endeavouring to recover the break even position and is consulting widely with the public in developing a fare strategy.”

He added: “The Council has recently asked independent consultants to carry out an socioeconomic study of fare levels and this is currently with the community as part of a consultation to assist the council with a sustainable fare strategy for the ferry and this will be reported to the Community Services committee in due course. “

In the past 12 months fares have increased by between 12% and 40%. Vehicles under 3.5 ton now pay a single fare of £7.90, while passengers and bicycles are free. Motorbikes are £2.60 and caravans £10.60.

Vehicles over 3.5 ton pay between £12.50 and £43.70. Books of 30 tickets cost £69.50 for cars and £159 for vehicles over 3.5 ton.